Russell Skelton, Amoonguna, Northern Territory
July 3, 2007
THE Howard Government's assessment of indigenous communities met its
first setback yesterday when a team of police, soldiers and social
workers were refused entry to the Amoonguna community south of Alice
Community chief executive Barry Byerley told organisers the team was
not welcome until appropriate consultation had been made with the
community's 350 residents and the purpose of the visit fully explained.
"It was a ridiculous situation. We didn't want the team just barging
in without the people being properly briefed on why they were coming
and what was involved. It was the height of arrogance," he said.
Mr Byerley said the community, which recently won a local government
award for good governance, had been angered by the Federal
Government's decision to cut off funding for community development
employment programs (CDEP), which had forced more than 30 residents
back on the dole.
"They treat the community with contempt by failing to adequately
explain the loss of CDEP after just nine months and then they give us
only 24 hours' notice that they want to come into the community.
People are genuinely worried."
Mr Byerley said he had been told of the visit on Sunday, but had
objected strongly. A spokesman for the assessment team said he hoped
they would visit the community later in the week.
Amoonguna is the first community to refuse entry. Assessment teams
have visited six communities so far.
Marie Ellis, a traditional owner, endorsed Mr Byerley's stand, saying
a community meeting would decide whether the assessment team would be
welcomed on Thursday. "I don't know what will happen, it is up to the
people," she said.
Health centre manager David Evans said the community had taken a
strong stand on sexual abuse and had recently banned a convicted
pedophile from entering. "We also have one of the lowest rates for
sexually transmitted disease in the territory, it's around 3 per cent."
Meanwhile, a team visited Docker River and the tiny community of
Wallace Rockhole, west of Alice Springs, the first of eight expected
to be surveyed this week. A number of people expressed concern about
the lack of Aboriginal leaders in the assessment team and asked for
AFP officers are now being trained in NT law enforcement and cultural
considerations before they take up duties in the communities. The
first of them are expected to be deployed in Mutitjulu on Friday.
It is still unclear if the Federal Government's planned health checks
will be mandatory for children under 16. Both federal Health Minister
Tony Abbott and the chair of the Government's new task force, Dr Sue
Gordon, hoped they would be voluntary.
"That it's an across-the-board health check, to check eyes, ears,
nose, and if there is any thought that there may be some sexual
(abuse), then it has got to be done properly," Dr Gordon said.